Baptism of the Lord – January 10, 2021

As we bring the liturgical celebration of Christmas to a close today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the heart of the message of the gospel emerges – much less through the image of the stable in Bethlehem – but far more through the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry during his baptism by John in the Jordan River.

Yet, for all that this great feast conveys to us about the mission and ministry of Jesus that emerged following his baptism, it especially invites and challenges us to reflect upon our own baptism and to renew our commitment to that sacrament that serves as the gateway into the Christian life.

The significance of Jesus’ baptism and its relationship to our own is a powerful focus of Saint Mark’s gospel, proclaimed just a moment ago.  Notice that Saint Mark does not begin his gospel with stories of Jesus’ birth and images of shepherds and angels or magi and stars.  To the contrary, Mark begins at the Jordan River with the decent of the Holy Spirit and these words of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”   With those words of affirmation, Jesus embraces the very reason for his birth and begins his mission as the bearer of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and mercy to all.

My friends, the same Spirit that rested upon Jesus descended upon us, compelling us to assume the work of the gospel in imitation of Jesus and in service of our brothers and sisters.  Our baptism, then, is not just a mile marker or sacred tradition that we’re called to ritualize as Christians.  It is a commitment on our part to embrace a lifestyle – a lifestyle patterned on Jesus’ life of selfless service and unconditional love.

And the heart of that lifestyle that we are challenged to embrace is not the sentimental image of a baby in a manger.  That image will be gone tomorrow.  The image we are called to focus upon is that of the preacher – the anointed one of God – who heals the sick – who feeds the hungry – who forgives the sinner – who lives the truth – who challenges the self-righteous – who pursues the unlovable – and who gives his life so that others may find the fullness of life rooted in faith.  …  In essence, brothers and sisters, we who are recipients of Jesus’ baptism are called to be like the merciful Christ – whose name we take as our own.

This day reminds us that our baptism demands much more than merely claiming for ourselves the name of “Christian.”   Baptism carries with it the expectation that we live the message of Jesus’ gospel with integrity.  …  We can’t say we’re Christians and at the same time live a gospel that Jesus did not preach.

I suspect that such words make sense to most of us as we attempt to integrate our faith into the daily experiences of our lives.  Yet, look at the consequences of living without integrity of faith.  We have a perfect example from this past week.  …  The tragic and deadly events that took place in our nation’s capital this past week are far too complex for me to analyze in this homily nor is that my role.  Yet, I know I’m not going out on a limb when I say that a good number of the individuals who stormed the capital building would proudly claim for themselves the title of Christian.  Why do I say that?  Because they said it themselves.  Many carried signs and flags proclaiming “Jesus Saves!”  Perhaps you saw them.

Brothers and sisters, make no mistake about it.  Jesus did not preach whatever gospel motivated those insurrectionists to invade the halls of democracy and freedom.  Nor did they embrace any type of life-giving agenda as they set the stage for the death of five individuals, including a member of the capital police force who was attempting to keep peace.  No matter how anyone attempts to rationalize their actions, their gospel was rooted in hatred, revenge and a gross disrespect for human life – not the gospel of Jesus.

Some will criticize me for daring to venture into this arena during a reflection upon the Sunday scriptures.  It surely won’t be the first time.  I do so, brothers and sisters, not from some posture of righteousness, but because of the simple fact that many of those who attacked our nation’s capital and placed the lives of countless individuals in jeopardy sought to justify their actions by raising the banner of Christianity.  …  But there was no integrity in what they did.

Brothers and sisters, you and I know that the true banner of faith in which we have been baptized and through which we find meaning, purpose and peace is nothing like what we witnessed this week.  It’s life-giving and hope-filled for all.

This year, more than ever, as we find ourselves confronted by the consequences of a global pandemic and the heavy burdens that it has laid upon our shoulders, we realize that not only are we incapable of controlling our world and our lives but we are also dependent upon one another for our life and well-being.

Thank God for all of you who seek to live your baptism with integrity and who have come to realize that as Christians, we can never live in isolation, separated one from another, filled with bitterness and hatred.  …  Thank God for the generous hearts of so many of you who participate in this Mass today who have given so selflessly for the sake of your brothers and sisters in need.   …  Thank God for those of you who have come to understand that the heart of Jesus’ mission is to show us the mercy and love of God – to serve, not to be served.  …  Brothers and sisters, our only way forward in these difficult days is to do the same.

Quite providentially, Pope Francis shared these thoughts not too long ago: “Does it not seem to you that in our time there is a demand for even more fraternal sharing and of love?  Does it not appear to you that all of us need more charity?  I am not talking about that charity that contents itself with extemporaneous help and does not get involved.  …  I am talking about the charity that shares, that takes on our brother’s and sister’s difficulties and suffering.  What flavor life has when we let ourselves be flooded with God’s love!”

Brothers and sisters, may we open our lives to the infinite love of God first poured into our hearts at baptism and so work to build the Kingdom of God and a world filled with peace.